Is There a Gorilla in Your Midst?

Photo courtesy of Fernando de Sousa.

With COVID-19 still plaguing us, many are feeling stuck in a rut. A difficulty in being in a rut arises when everything around us becomes so familiar we tune it out. Doing that may make our lives feel even smaller and more boring than they already are. To shake you out of the rut you may be mired in, let me tell you a story about gorillas.

If you ever took a Psych 101 or Intro to Sociology class in high school or college, you may be familiar with the famous Gorilla on the Basketball Court study. To refresh your memory, in that study, students were asked to watch a video of a basketball game and count the number of times the team in the white jerseys passed the ball to each other. While the players are passing the ball around, a man dressed as a gorilla walked onto the court. When the video ended, the students were asked to reveal their count and if they noticed the gorilla. The majority of the students did not see the gorilla.

In fact, they were so sure there was no gorilla, they asked to watch the video again. Much to their surprise, the gorilla was there. This study taught us something called Selective Attention. Selective Attention means that when we focus our attention in one place, other details get missed or overlooked. In the case of the students, their attention was on basketball players, so they missed the gorilla. How much do you miss in life because of where your attention is directed?

If you are so focused on what the pandemic has taken from you, do you even notice the good stuff that is still around? If all you can think about is not being able to eat inside your favorite restaurant, you miss out on all the delicious take-out that Santa Monica restaurants are delivering. Or, if your gym is still closed, do you sit on your couch channel-surfing, or do you go onto YouTube and try a new at-home workout?

Shifting your attention, or becoming Mindful, can help add vitality to your pandemic existence. Let me ask you, where is your attention lately? Are you so focused on one thing that you neglect the rest? If you eat while you are working on your computer or watching TV, where is your attention? If you are dwelling on the miseries caused by the stay-at-home orders, what are you missing out on? Are you paying full attention anywhere?

If your attention is in one direction, what affect does that have on your other activities? For today, try to do one activity with full awareness. Give whatever task is in front of you – brushing your teeth, doing your work, preparing your lunch, eating your dinner – your full attention. If you do, what happens? How does it feel? Do you notice the gorilla in your midst?

By Dr. Sheila Forman

Dr. Forman is a clinical psychologist based in Santa Monica who provides teletherapy services. For more information, call 310-828-8004 or go to

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